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Verizon touts 4G at CES 2011 press event

by Phil Hornshaw

Verizon (VZ) was all about the future of its 4G LTE network at its CES 2011 keynote address, announcing plans to expand the service from its current 38 markets of coverage to as many as 140 more markets by the end of the year.

The plan is to have the entire nation covered by 4G by 2014. Verizon said it’s partnering with rural carriers to offer coverage in places that don’t receive service as strongly, and it expects its 4G service to be 10 to 20 times faster than 3G is today. Markets such as Detroit and Little Rock, Arkansas, will be among the 176 markets covered at the end of 2011.

The CES press event was also a chance for Verizon to roll out a bunch of new devices from its partners -- 10, in fact, all running on Android, and all of which are planned to hit shelves by the middle of the year. Among them were the LG (LGERF.PK) Revolution, the HTC (2498.TW) Thunderbolt, Samsung’s (005930.KS) 4G LTE smartphone and its Galaxy Tab. Verizon went on to emphasize that speed wasn’t the only plus of 4G -- the devices would also be more powerful, with better integration of apps as well.

To exemplify the app integration, the presser included presentations from Skype and Electronic Arts (ERTS). Skype apps will be integrated into 4G Verizon phones to allow Skype-to-Skype video calling across all devices over the network. We finally saw that functionality added to the iOS Skype apps last month, but with 4G service, video calling and Skype’s other services should be a lot clearer and more functional.

The EA demo dealt with mobile gaming on the 4G devices, and they were able to do some interesting things with popular games. Demo video of the Rock Band for Android app on the devices allowed four users playing cooperatively, with each taking on a different instrument in the online rhythm game. We didn’t actually get to see the game in action -- only on video -- but the concept is definitely appealing and seems to show mobile gaming continuing to approach the kind of play achievable by consoles.

For all the devices and concepts shown off during the event, though, Verizon didn’t come out and announce its version of an iPhone -- not that we expected such an announcement. What we did see, however, seemed like a pretty confident declaration that Verizon is going forward, securing deals with partners and getting the same or better functionality out of apps and services shared by its competitors. It certainly seems like Verizon can handle life without the iPhone (whether it eventually gets to carry it or not), and is working really hard to surpass Apple (AAPL) and its powerful little device in every way that it can.